What are they and should you be concerned?
Ticks are small blood sucking creatures. They can be as small as a poppy seed, or having fed, an adult can be the size of a pea or larger. Because they are so small, you may mistake them for a freckle, or a spec of dirt. They inject an anaesthetic into the skin, so you’re not likely to feel them feeding. Ticks are blind and detect the animal through heat and carbon dioxide emitted by the body. Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not jump or fly. They tend to either climb or fall on to their unsuspecting victim. They can hang around for a few hours before starting to feed, but once they start, they will do so until they are full, which tends to take between 5 and 7 days. There are a number of different species of tick. The most common in the UK is the deer/sheep tick.
Image: Deer Tick – bugguide.net
What’s the Problem with a Tick Feeding off Me or my Pet?
Ticks can carry a number of infectious diseases and can pass these infections to their host through their saliva. The most common tick-borne infection is Lyme disease. Lyme disease infects around 3,000 new hosts in the UK each year. Lyme disease affects the central nervous system, heart, skin and joints and symptoms include a bulls-eye style rash, with accompanying flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, it can result in arthritis or long term nerve damage. Babesiosis, which until this year was regarded as being a foreign virus, appears to have hit the UK shores. Babesiosis affects the body’s immune system, causing it to destroy its own red blood cells. A number of dogs in Essex have recently become infected, with at least one having died. With the relaxation of the EU pet passport rules; there is no longer a need for family pets to be treated for ticks before returning to the UK. As a result, several species of tick not previously found in the UK, have started to appear.
There are a number of other tick-borne viral infections that can have serious and even fatal results. Symptoms include headaches, stomach and joint pain, vomiting and flu-like symptoms, and can result in encephalitis, meningitis and death.
Image: Dog with Tick infection (upper)
Image: Lyme Disease (middle)
Image: Babeosis Microti – studyblue.com (lower)
Ticks tend to favour moist environments with thick and dense vegetation or long grass. This includes woodlands, parks, and gardens, and some species are even known to breed indoors. Areas where deer, rabbits, and sheep are found tend to be the most affected, but ticks also infect birds and rodents, so their spread can be far and wide. Ticks tend to come out in the warmer months, so between March and September tends to be prime season for them. However the mild winters that we have been experiencing in the UK in recent years, have started to extend the season to start earlier and finish later. People and pets most at risk are those that tend to spend more time outdoors in walking and hiking areas, and those going camping and horse-back riding.
What Can I do to Prevent Tick Bites?
While vaccines do exist for infections like tick-borne encephalitis, there are no vaccines for the majority of tick-borne diseases. So prevention tends to be the best approach. If you are going walking, it is best to wear long trousers, socks and closed shoes, and preferably to wear light colours (making it easier to spot ticks). After being in affected areas, it is important to wash and inspect your body for ticks, especially in between toes, armpits hairlines, and other hidden areas. Your pets, especially dogs and cats are very prone to receiving ticks. It is important to wash your pets, and thoroughly inspecting their fur for ticks on a regular basis. It is also worth ensuring your pets have an extra layer of protection, so consider using one of the repellents available in the market. If you do not like covering your pets or yourselves in toxic chemicals and paint strippers, then you should look at using a natural remedy such as Natural Raw Amber Necklace (available from£18.95). Works by rubbing against the animal fur and sending little static shocks which are not felt by the pet but quite a shock to the flea or tick.
Alternatively there is an electronic tick repellent e.g. TickLess for both pets and humans (from £22.95). TickLess is an electronic tick repellent that emits ultrasonic pulses. The pulses numb the ticks’ senses, leaving them unable to detect that they are in the vicinity of an animal. Ticks then tend to drop off the animal as they assume they are not going to get a meal. According to Long Paws, the company has receives incredible feedback on how well TickLess works. Most clients, since starting to use TickLess, find that they do not have to remove many, if any ticks from their pets, even when walking in known infected areas. TickLess is available for pets and for humans.
Using a branded product like Fiprotec from £10.99, also works wonders – a veterinarian strength, 4 weekly spot-on solution to combat flea and tick problems.
If I Find a Tick, How Should I Remove It?
To remove a tick, you can use fine-tipped tweezers or a specialist tick removal tool; O’TOM Tick Twister sticks from £4.50. To use one of these, you need to grasp hold of the tick with the tweezers or tool (see graphics below) as close to the skin as possible, then slowly and firmly pull the tick away from the skin. It is best no to try and suffocate the tick using ointments like petroleum jelly or to burn the tick, as this tends to result in the tick regurgitating and further spreading any infection into the host. Do not squeeze or crush the tick, for the same reason. Once you’ve removed the tick, wash your hands, the tool, and the area with soap and water, and apply a disinfectant to the affected area. The wound should be monitored to ensure no rashes develop.
Article courtesy of Long Paws Snout